In his time with the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning has thrown for 131 touchdowns, 14,863 passing yards, and maintained a completion percentage of 67.7%. All of those numbers represent league bests over the last three years.
Yet, many Broncos fans have seemingly forgotten what Manning has meant to their team since he signed with Denver in March of 2012. Thanks to an injury-ridden stretch in the final eight games of last season, wherein Manning threw 11 touchdowns, to an Eli-esque 8 interceptions, social media and talk radio are awash with disparaging and often unfair comments about the 39 year old 5-time league MVP.
Some fans call for his release. Some fans call for his head. Almost all of them call for a pay cut. Manning is expected to cost the Broncos $21.5M in 2015, when his complete salary cap hit is taken into account. For many, that price is just too high. Reportedly, fans can count General Manager John Elway among those who believe a $21.5M Peyton Manning is an overpaid Peyton Manning.
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Last week, Manning informed Elway and the Broncos that he is, “Physically and mentally prepared to play at a significant level in 2015.” Head coach Gary Kubiak, speaking at the NFL combine this week, told the Denver Post’s Mike Klis that he “expects” Manning to be his quarterback. Elway has said that he “wants Peyton back.” So, what is the hold up?
It’s widely believed that Elway is in the process of negotiating a new contract with Manning’s agent, Tom Condon. Many believed we’d have formal news of Manning’s return to the team this week. The fact that Elway didn’t offer a definitive answer to the Manning question at his combine press conference on Thursday has led to speculation there may be some kind of stalemate in those negotiations.
One media source close to the team tells Mile High Huddle, “The Broncos want Manning to take anywhere from a four to nine million dollar haircut next year. Tom Condon is a tough customer. He’s fighting hard for his client.”
The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, continued, “That’s the delay; they’re going through a power struggle right now.” Still, it’s highly likely Manning will be back in 2015, “Ultimately, Elway wants Manning back. They’ll find a way to make it work. Barring some as yet unknown craziness, Peyton Manning will be the quarterback of the Denver Broncos in 2015.”
If it’s a forgone conclusion that Manning is going to be back in orange and blue this upcoming season, the only remaining question seems to be his price tag. Under his current contract, Peyton is scheduled to make $19M this upcoming season, with a $2.5M signing bonus. With seventeen impending free agents on the Broncos roster, Elway must decide whether Manning is worth a $21.5M cap hit and if the team really needs that extra cap space.
Many have used the word “restructure” when it comes to the ongoing negotiation between Manning and the Broncos. That’s not the right word. A “restructure” implies money being back-loaded, or moved around to free up cap space in the short term.
A “restructure” means Peyton Manning can’t buy that nice beach house this year. But, he’ll be able to buy it next year. The problem is, there’s almost certainly not a “next year” for Peyton Manning. It’s impossible to backload a one-year deal. Make no mistake about it: we’re talking about a permanent pay cut. And, it’s an unfair pay cut at that.
Peyton Manning is the only quarterback in the history of professional football for whom a season with 4,727 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, and a 66.2% completion rate can be considered a “bad year.” Those were Manning’s statistics in 2014, a season wherein he suffered a serious thigh injury, hampering much of his ability in the second half of the season.
One need only look to the stat sheet if they want to question whether #18 is still a top-five quarterback. Yet, if you were to take a passing glance at any of the dozens of Manning related comment sections on social media, you’ll see a very different narrative. Fans, even Broncos fans, refer to Manning as “trash,” or “washed up.”
While this doesn’t represent the majority of “Broncos Country,” it certainly comes from a large and vocal minority of fans for whom the last thing they saw is the only thing they’re capable of remembering. The last Peyton Manning Broncos fans saw was a hobbled Peyton Manning. That’s not the player they’ll see by the time the season begins.
With Peyton Manning on the roster, the Broncos are virtually guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Without him, they’re no better than an 8-8 team, on the outside looking in at the postseason. In the NFL, it’s impossible to put a price tag on a shot in the tournament.
Disgruntled Broncos fans would be best served to go ask a Jets, Titans, Buccaneers, Bills, or Browns fan whether they’d pay Peyton Manning $19M for a chance at a world championship this season. That’s what Denver fans have with Manning on their roster. There’s no question he’s worth all of the $21.5M he was promised. However, it doesn’t really matter anyway.
The Broncos don’t really need Peyton Manning to take a pay cut. With $26-27M in cap space, Denver’s got enough room to place the franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas, sign a number of utility players, and one or two top-flight free agents.
Of course, it would help Denver if Manning would voluntarily give up some dough and live off of the seemingly endless piles of money Papa John is throwing at him these days. They don’t need him to. Yet, most fans really, really want him to.
For fans, Manning agreeing to a pay cut would be akin to an apology. He’d be acknowledging that he’s getting older. He’d be acknowledging that he didn’t play well in three post-season losses that ripped the proverbial hearts out of the chests of Broncos fans everywhere. He’d be admitting, in some small way, that he’d failed his fans. For them, it’d be a moral victory.
John Elway and Peyton Manning are in the middle of a “power struggle.” Both want Manning to play for the Broncos in 2015. However, both are also intensely competitive narcissists. At some point, one side will have to give in.
Peyton Manning’s worth to the Denver Broncos is immeasurable. If worse comes to worse and Manning refuses to take the pay cut that Elway seems so dead-set on imposing upon the 5-time league MVP, the Duke would be best to pay Peyton the money they both agreed on in 2012.
If not, and Elway allows his competitive fire to overpower him, Peyton Manning may once again find himself among the most highly coveted free agents in this year’s class.
In his typically hilarious way, Brandon Perna lays out 5 reasons why Manning should return in the video below.